RIDLEY, Thomas (bef.1548-1629), of Doctors' Commons, London and Owslebury, Hants.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. bef. 1548, prob. s. of Thomas Ridley (d.1548) of Bouldon, Salop and Ely, by Alice or Anne, da. of Richard Day of Worfield, Salop. educ. Eton 1562-6 (King’s scholar 1563); King’s, Camb. 1566, BA 1571, MA 1574, LLD 1583; incorp. DCL Oxf. 1598. m. (1) Alice, da. of William Day, bp. of Winchester 1596; (2) Margaret, da. of Sir William Boleyn or Bullen, 2da. Kntd. 24 June 1619, at Greenwich.1

Offices Held

Fellow, King’s Coll. 1569-79; provost, Eton 1579-83; adv. Doctors’ Commons 10 Oct. 1590; chancellor, diocese of Winchester 1596; j.p. Hants, Surr. from 1596; commr. piracy Southampton 1603; master in Chancery extraordinary 1598, ordinary 1609; vicar gen. to Abp. Abbot of Canterbury c.1611-d.; member, ct. of high commission.2


Ridley, a civil lawyer and ecclesiastical official, was descended from an old north of England family and related to Bishop Nicholas Ridley, the Marian martyr. No contemporary pedigrees of his branch of the family have survived and some modern authorities rely too much on an inaccurate nineteenth-century account of the family. It is generally accepted, however, that Ridley was born in Ely. His father was probably one Thomas Ridley of Shropshire origins, who termed himself ‘yeoman’ in his will, but leased a house and land in Ely from the dean and chapter. This self-styled yeoman’s father, Lancelot Ridley, was possibly the divine who was deprived under Mary but held a good Cambridgeshire living under Elizabeth. If so, he may have been helpful to his grandson in his early years. Thomas Ridley, senior, died in 1548, leaving Ridley to be brought up by the Day family, whose fortunes were linked with those of the Ridleys both in Cambridgeshire and in Shropshire. The Days proved to be Ridleys principal benefactors until his career was firmly established. George Day, afterwards bishop of Chichester, may have known the Ridleys when he was provost of King’s College and vice-chancellor of the University, but it was his brother William, considerably his junior, who did most to shape Thomas Ridley’s life. He was like a second father to the young man, but had more patronage and influence to offer than Ridley’s own father could have had. Apart from finding him a place at Eton, where he was provost, William Day also secured for his protégé the headmastership of his old school when he returned from Cambridge. Furthermore, it was probably Day, as dean of Windsor, who had him returned to Parliament for Chipping Wycombe in 1586. By 1594 Ridley had evidently become well enough known to the Cecils to ask them to obtain for his benefactor the next vacant bishopric, an advancement for which Day had waited a long time. Though efforts to secure Worcester and Durham failed, in 1596, only a few months before he died, Day was consecrated at Winchester. To crown his many earlier favours, the new bishop now appointed Ridley, a fully qualified civil lawyer, his chancellor. By that date the close ties between the two men had been further strengthened by a marriage between Ridley and one of Day’s daughters. According to a late pedigree of the Day family at Shrewsbury, Ridley married a daughter of the bishop’s elder brother, also William, but no other evidence of this man’s existence has been found and Bishop Day’s will refers to a daughter as ‘Mrs. Ridley’. It therefore appears that Margaret, daughter of Sir William Boleyn, was Ridley’s second wife, and it is she who is mentioned in his will.3

Ridley remained chancellor of Winchester diocese for many years after Day’s death, and surviving records from the consistory court show that he performed most of his duties in person. He carried out the visitation of the diocese in the autumn of 1606 for Bishop Thomas Bilson and the following year began a metropolitan visitation as Bancroft’s deputy. He heard some of the cases brought before him in his own house at Owslebury, a few miles from Winchester. It was during this period that he sat in the Commons again, this time for Lymington, within his diocese, although he probably owed his seat to its new lord, the Earl of Nottingham, possibly at the instance of Sir Robert Cecil.4

Soon after George Abbot became archbishop of Canterbury he appointed Ridley his vicar general. Like Day, Abbot was a strong puritan, and probably Ridley shared their views. Ridley’s years as an ecclesiastical judge and administrator coincided with an attack on the authority of the church courts by the common lawyers. It was to defeat this and to obtain a body of law capable of meeting the administrative needs of the contemporary church, that Bancroft asked Ridley and two other ecclesiastical lawyers to compile the so-called canons or code of 1604. Of the 141 canons, 44 were new and related to procedure in ecclesiastical courts, the others being based on the old canon law. Ridley’s principal contribution was entitled A View of the Civil and Ecclesiastical Law, (1607), dedicated to James I.

Ridley died on 23 Jan. 1629 and was buried four days later at St. Benet’s, Paul’s Wharf, the Doctors’ Commons church. One of the supervisors of his will was Archbishop Abbot’s brother, Sir Maurice Abbott, a governor of the East India Company.5

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: M.R.P.


  • 1. J. Hodgson, Hist. Northumb. ii(2), 322 seq.; iii(2), 340, 343; W. Richardson, Gen. of Ridley; Vis. Salop (Harl. Soc. xxix), 162, 419-20; DNB; Nichols, Progresses Jas. I, iii. 554; Ridlon’s Ancient Ryedales should be used with caution.
  • 2. H. Maxwell Lyte, Hist. Eton, 4th ed. 598; DNB; Lansd. 142, f. 204.
  • 3. Cambs. and Hunts. Arch. Soc. v. 374, 375, 378; VCH Cambs. iv. 49; PCC 12 Populwell; DNB (Ridley, Lancelot; Day, George; Day, William); HMC Hatfield, iv. 616; v. 7, 48-9.
  • 4. A. J. Willis, A Hants Misc. i.; Metropol. Vis. Archdeaconry of Winchester 1607-8; B. Woodward, Hist. Hants, ii. 154, 326; Strype, Whitgift, ii. 332.
  • 5. DNB (Abbot, George); CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 272; 1627-8, p. 377; VCH Surr. ii. 191; Egerton 1584, f. 308; Add. 38170, f. 348; W. Holdsworth, Hist. Eng. Law, i. (7th ed.), 605 seq.; v. 12-13; W. Senior, Doctors’ Commons and the Old Court of Admiralty, 80-7; R. Usher, Rise and Fall of High Commission, 149, 156-7, 159; Rymer, Foedera, xvii. 200, 648; xviii. 3, 293; PCC 19 Ridley; VCH Hants, iii. 334; VCH Mdx. iii. 39; VCH Worcs. iii. 254; VCH Berks. iii. 104.